Sunday, September 25, 2016


In the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, we read of a rich man who plants a vineyard and hires workmen to tend it, then sets forth on an extended journey.  When the time comes to gather in the fruits, the lord of the vineyard sends servants to collect that which is due to him as the owner.  When these servants are abused and beaten by the workmen, the lord sends his only son, considering that surely the workmen will respect him.  But alas, no:  the son is brutally beaten and slain, then cast out of the vineyard.  At this point, our Lord asks his listeners, "When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?"  And "they say unto Him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men...."  And we read as well in today's Gospel Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisees: "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the condemnation of hell?"

These clear words of the Gospel contradict the modern sentiment, "God doesn't judge, so we shouldn't judge either."  But obviously God does pass judgment on hypocrites and liars, on those who profess to be pious and Godfearing while they willingly transgress against the spirit of the Law.  As I have insisted so often in my sermons, God is love, and the law of love is the very essence of our Faith.  So then, the question is:  how can the God of Love say such mean things?  And if He does indeed love us as creatures created in His image, how can He condemn so severely those who have gone astray from the path of salvation?

Take note, however:  He is not condemning ordinary sinners such as you and I, who have, due to the weakness of their fallen human nature, fallen into sinfulness and depravity.  Rather, His condemnation falls squarely upon those to whom the truth has been revealed, yet they persist in violating that law of love that is the very source and foundation of the created order.

The truth is, however-- our Lord merely confirms that condemnation we ourselves have fallen into as a result of our willful rejection of the love of God revealed through Christ's sacrificial suffering upon the Cross.  The Pharisees rejected this unconditional love, being too proud to humble themselves before this perfect love and to bear the fruits of repentance.  They preferred instead to seek their own righteousness--which is, in the end, a false righteousness which has been likened to filthy rags.  We are, nevertheless, neither punished nor rewarded for our faithfulness (or lack thereof) to His commandments.  Heaven or hell, in the end, is merely the natural consequence of the way we have chosen to live our lives in this fallen world.

But the sad part is: the Pharisee that lives within us all fully embraces the lawless rebellion against God, so that we freely chose of our own free will to set ourselves upon that broad path that leads to perdition.  In other words, God condemns us only because we have already condemned ourselves. Rather than humbly bending our knees, imploring the boundless mercy of God, we proudly seek to set up for ourselves an impregnable fortress of self-righteousness.  

So it is that we are condemned already, you and I.  Nevertheless, if we--unlike the Pharisees of old--condemn ourselves here and now, then--and only then--shall we avoid falling into that condemnation that leads to eternal death.  And it is through repentance alone that the greatest sinner (even you and I) can hope to be released from the bondage of sin into the eternal light of God's heavenly Kingdom.

Monday, September 12, 2016


"For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and a holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly."  And yet... because of a foolish, ill-considered oath uttered in the midst of a drunken feast, while his base passions were inflamed by the lascivious dancing of his stepdaughter, he orders the beheading of the prophet whom our Lord declares to be the greatest of those born of woman.  And truly he shall live to regret his moment of weakness for the rest of his ill-fated life.

So then....  Who is ultimately responsible for this atrocity?  Who bears the burden of the blame?  It was, of course, Herodias' daughter who (after consulting with her mother) requests the head of the Baptist on a platter in fulfillment of Herod's oath.  But after all: she is nothing more than a damaged, dysfunctional girl, entangled in an unhealthy relationship with her evil mother.  She is, perhaps, worthy of condemnation, but really--given her background and formation-- we could hardly expect her to discern the moral bankruptcy of her request. 

And yes, Herodias is indeed an evil woman, consumed by the passion of lust, and burning with hatred toward the prophet who sought to thwart her self-centered desires.  But again, one wonders... had she ever, from her earliest childhood, been exposed to a moral and God-centered perspective on life?

And so it was Herod alone who seems, for whatever reason, to possess a conscience, having developed a genuine respect for St. John and to understand, on however rudimentary a level, that the life choices he had made were wrong and morally repugnant to God.  And yet it was he himself who actually orders the beheading of the Baptist.  And he does so... even though he was "exceedingly sorry!"  And so it is that the greatest guilt for this horrendous act falls squarely upon his shoulders.

There is, in this episode, a lesson to be gleaned concerning our everyday lives as Orthodox Christians:  it is so easy to point the finger at others, to decry all the evil at work in the world today, while we--who have been enlightened in the waters of Baptism and sanctified by the grace of the Holy Spirit-- fall short time and again from fulfilling the commandment of love Christ has so clearly enjoined upon us.  Those who have been nurtured in our pagan, post Christian society do not know any better (though perhaps, to some extent, they should), but we have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit--as we sing at every Divine Liturgy.  We surely know the difference between good and evil, and yet--like Herod--we continually give in to the temptation to do those things we know in our hearts to be contrary to the Law of God.  The fact is, we know better, but still we do not cease to willingly offend God in thought, word and deed.

Fortunately, Christ has given us through His Church the medicine of repentance as our means of redemption--the very means through which Herod himself might have been saved, had he so desired.  So let us sincerely repent of our evil deeds, imploring our merciful God that He grant unto us forgiveness of sins and eternal life in His heavenly Kingdom.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


In that prayer which our Lord taught His disciples, we beseech God that He "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."  Because (as the beloved disciple, St. John the Theologian, assures us), "God is love," and the very essence of love is forgiveness.  If we claim to love God but refuse to forgive those who offend us, we are liars.  And so we are commanded to love our enemies, and to do good to those who persecute.  (And it should be mentioned, parenthetically, that it is impossible to love God and our neighbor if we do not first love ourselves, as God loves us, having created us out of love and placed within us his own image).

And so we know that we are at all times and in all places the object of God's unconditional love, but the fact is... it is simply impossible for God's grace to penetrate a heart hardened by bitterness and resentment.  So how could we possibly have fellowship with an all-loving God while we set ourselves apart from a brother or sister who is, like us, created in the image of God, presuming to pass judgment upon one who shares with us the fallen human nature?

In today's Gospel, we read of a servant who owes his master an incredibly vast sum of money.  When, however, he prostrates himself before his master and pleads for mercy, he is frankly forgiven the entire debt and his slate is wiped clean.  So what does this wretched servant do immediately afterwards?....  He goes forth at once and demands of a fellow servant the immediate repayment of a paltry sum.  Shameful, we say--and rightfully so--that having been forgiven so much by his compassionate master, he should insist that his fellow servant should be cast into jail until his debt is repaid.  Surely the ungrateful servant  deserves the just punishment he receives at the hands of his master.  Yet all the while we ourselves so often take for granted the unconditional love and forgiveness our all-merciful God has so abundantly poured out upon us, while we stubbornly seek to justify our total failure of love towards our neighbor, all the while refusing to cast aside our petty grudges and resentments. 

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not die, but have eternal life," while we are unwilling to offer up upon the altar of sacrificial love, for the sake of the other, our pathetic, self-centered egos.  Only when we can say with St. Paul:"it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me," that the gates of Paradise are opened and we can begin to tread the straight and narrow path of salvation, putting to death within ourselves those egotistical thoughts and desires that separate us from the love of God.